Cutting peony stems first step in getting plants ready for winter

Cutting peony stems first step in getting plants ready for winter

Tracey FitzgibbonQ: On a whim, we planted a few peony plants last fall and amazingly, they came up and flowered for us this year. But now they look scraggly. How do we take care of them through the coming winter season? – L.W., Albuquerque

A: I’ve learned there are two schools of thought for the tending of peony stems for winter.

The “Western Garden Book” suggests carefully cutting any stems down to just below ground level after the leaves have turned brown. The second reference I have, “Down to Earth,” by the Albuquerque Master Gardeners, suggests cutting peony stems down to about 6 inches and “top dress the plantings with milled compost or well-aged manure.”

Either school of thought will keep your peony plants quiet and protected through the dormant period. I’d stick a taller dowel in the ground to remind yourself that something precious is sleeping there, so when you water, they get a drink too. Remember, here in our climate, it’s dry ground that is one of the biggest reasons for failing. Hope this helps.

Q: I have planted up three brand new pots and have them filled with pansy plants. They are so pretty now. My question is, how often will I need to water them during the winter? It seems so weird to me to be watering during the winter. – B.N., Albuquerque

A: It’ll be best for your pots to be placed in a spot where they’ll get no less than six hours of sun a day for the season. I water my pots through the winter weekly. Now if it’s going to get really frigid I do my best to water everything. As I just said above, it’s dry, or drying soil, that causes the most damage to living things here in our area. So, become a weather watcher.

When you are warned about a big cold spell, get out there beforehand and give everybody a drink. Frozen wet soil is actually an insulator because frozen is “warmer” than frost. Get in the habit of watering weekly, with perhaps a protecting drink now and then as warranted, and your pansy plantings should be terrific for the winter. Just remember to disconnect the hose from the bib after watering to protect your plumbing.

Dear readers: The dates for Albuquerque’s Green Waste event have been announced. From Nov. 28 to Dec. 9, the city will pick up bags of green waste during regular trash pickup days.

Green waste is defined as leaves, twigs, stems, spent and finished plants from your gardens, even branches and prunings if need be.

There are some rules that participants need to follow. Your collections should placed in trash bags and weigh no more than 40 pounds each.

If you wish to include branches or limbs, they need to be cut into lengths of 4 feet and bundled securely together, again remembering that 40 pound limit.

No dirt, gravel, tree stumps, construction materials, chemicals, used oil, car parts, children’s bent or broken toys, or items like that should be included.

Then, by 7 a.m. on your regularly scheduled garbage collection day between Nov. 28-Dec. 9, set your green waste collection at the curb, keeping them upwards of 5 feet away from the trash bins. And NO, your blue recycle bin is not to be used for this service.

I remember reading a letter to the editor in the Journal last year about the city not timing the pick up perfectly. The writer noted that the “leaves hadn’t even fallen yet.” In the city’s defense, they are not in charge of the weather. Last autumn was long and slow, causing trees and things to hang on unusually longer.

It’s a smidgen early to write this, but the way the year is swinging by, the Green Waste collection will be here before we know it.

Thanks for listening and Happy Diggin’ In!

Tracey Fitzgibbon is a certified nurseryman. Send garden-related questions to Digging In, Albuquerque Journal, 7777 Jefferson NE, Albuquerque, NM 87109, or to


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